Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

On November 8, 1926, Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Marxist and fierce antibourgeois, anti-Fascist journalist and deputy, was arrested by Benito Mussolini’s police and deported to the tiny island of Ustica. His sentence was twenty years. Until his release from incarceration on April 21, 1937, six days before his death, he was variously confined at Turi near Bari, at Formia, and at Milan, until his return to his native Sardinia. A small man physically, with a deformity that gave him the appearance of a humpbacked dwarf, he suffered from tuberculosis and arteriosclerosis. Despite these infirmities and under the eyes of his Fascist jailers, he wrote 219 letters (published in 1947) to his wife and a handful of other family members. Most important, he managed to produce roughly twenty-eight hundred pages of social analysis, philosophy, and political prophecy that constitute his Prison Notebooks, containing his singular commentaries and reflections. Gramsci’s covert writings were essential to his psychic survival: He had a fierce determination to be heard.

The substance of the notebooks was not developed sequentially. Gramsci was a thinker working under immense pressure and stress. Consequently, portions of an essay would be written at one time; months or years later it would be amended and appended.

The notebooks consist of a sequence of essays—a series of reflections. They are Marxist, but Sardinian rather than German or Russian....

(The entire section is 533 words.)